STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Nobody can blame the city Department of Health for checking a dog bite for rabies. But did they really have to cut off Rocky’s head?
Especially when all records showed the dog was up on all of its shots, including a rabies vaccine?
"That dog was all I had," Laurie says. "Now after 10 days his head is in Manhattan and his body is in Travis. It’s horrible."
It was bad enough that Laurie had to put Rocky down a few weeks after her other pet pit bull, 6-year-old Chloe, was euthanized.
But Rocky’s kidneys had failed when Laurie took him to the Staten Island Veterinary Group May 10. Dr. Joanna Nortmann said the dog should be put out of its misery.
On May 14, a vet tech took Rocky out of his cage for the final walk to the euthanasia room.
On the way to his death, Rocky bit the tech’s hand.
Dr. Nortmann was not in her Travis office on Monday to speak about Rocky. A woman at the front desk said the tech who got bit wasn’t there, either.
Laurie says Rocky "nipped" the tech. "Not bit. Not attacked. She was nipped. She told me it was nothing, that it’s part of the job."
Rocky took the needle and a couple of seconds later he was gone.
"It was a horrible weekend," Laurie recalls.
Things got worse during a phone call with Dr. Nortmann. The DOH wouldn’t release Rocky for cremation until they reviewed his vaccination records.
No problem. Rocky died current with his shots. Laurie faxed the records to Dr. Nortmann. The vet gave the records to the DOH.
The DOH had good news for Laurie. Yes, Rocky’s vaccinations were up to date.
The bad news was, they didn’t care.
A DOH spokesperson reasons that while the rabies vaccine is "highly effective ... the only way to be absolutely certain the dog was not rabid is to test it for the infection."
They needed a tissue sample from Rocky. They also wanted brain tissue.
And they wanted to take Rocky’s body to Manhattan for tests.
When Dr. Nortmann told Laurie a DOH officer was waiting to collect Rocky, Laurie’s son Andrew drove to the vet’s office and was greeted with the news that the order was canceled.
Laurie showed up a few minutes later for one last look.
Rocky was nowhere to be found.
"I asked, ‘Where’s my dog,’" Laurie recalls. "And [the vet] said part of Rocky was there, but the officer took his head off ... he cut off his head and took it."
Laurie was stunned. "You have no right to do that," she screamed.
The DOH spokesperson maintains that Rocky’s head was needed to test for rabies. She says animal heads can be removed by a private veterinarian or a city animal shelter, but doesn’t say who lopped off Rocky’s head.
Meanwhile, the nipped tech told Laurie everything is fine. "No rabies," Laurie says.
Tell that to the Health Department.
"The dog’s head is currently being tested for rabies at the city’s public health lab as required by the city’s health code," the DOH spokesperson says. "Once all test results come back from the lab, the Health Department will work with the dog owner on options for the dog’s cremation."
Laurie now waits for Rocky at her mother’s apartment in Port Richmond. She can’t stand the thought of walking into her Travis home without Rocky there to greet her with a lick and some unconditional love.
"I just don’t want to go home," Laurie says. "My house is empty. There’s nobody to meet me at the door. Nobody runs downstairs. There’s nobody to sit with. It’s just terrible.
"I did everything I could," Laurie adds tearfully. "You’re telling me to vaccinate my dog, but it’s not sufficient. We’re all paying this money. What are we doing?"
"The Health Department," the spokesperson says, "understands that this is a very difficult situation for the dog owner."
I can think of other words to describe Laurie’s situation and the way Rocky was handled.
Understanding isn’t one of them.
Staten Island Advance